Video: Repairing America's Broken Democracy – The Fulcrum
The Fulcrum Repairing America’s Broken Democracy
Rachel Kaganoff Stern is CEO of Junior State of America. Rachel shares her thoughts on the mission and impact of Junior State of America in engaging young people in government and improving their communities.
The interview is part of a collaboration between Bridge Alliance and CityBiz entitled Repairing America’s Broken Democracy.
Evan McMullin, who ran for president in 2016, is now campaigning as an independent to replace Sen. Mike Lee of Utah in next year’s midterms.
Evan McMullin, who ran a third-party campaign for president in 2016, announced Tuesday he is challenging Sen. Mike Lee of Utah in next year’s midterms.
Since his presidential campaign, McMullin has been focused on bridging political divides and advocating for government reform through Stand Up Republic, a nonprofit he launched alongside his running mate, Mindy Finn, in 2017. He is the latest in a series of political candidates to launch campaigns focused on democracy reform issues.
A Utah native, McMullin, 45, will again run as an independent candidate. In a video announcing his campaign, McMullin said the country has reached a crossroads with “our streets on fire and our temple of democracy desecrated” — a direct reference to the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol. He also said partisan polarization is preventing Congress from governing.
“Our politics are broken,” McMullin said in his campaign announcement. “And it’s putting our country in danger. We need leaders who will unite rather than divide. Washington has left us so polarized that we’re failing to overcome major problems facing the nation and it has to change.”
Because of this polarization, America faces “crisis after crisis that never gets solved,” McMullin said, including “forest fires, water shortages, a never-ending pandemic, the high costs of health care and an economy threatened by inflation and an exploding national debt.”
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McMullin began his career as an undercover CIA officer soon after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. After about a decade, he left the agency and graduated from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. McMullin briefly worked for Goldman Sachs before getting involved in politics as a volunteer for Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign in 2012.
He then went to work on Capitol Hill, advising Republicans and Democrats on national security issues. During the Republican presidential primaries in 2016, McMullin became a vocal critic of Donald Trump and left his job to launch his own presidential campaign. At that time, he also changed his political affiliation from Republican to independent.
While he garnered less than 1 percent of the vote nationally in 2016, he received more than 21 percent of the vote in Utah. Still, Lee holds a significant advantage over McMullin as an incumbent who last won re-election, in 2016, with 68 percent of the vote.
Earlier this year, another reform-minded candidate announced his bid for Senate in Wisconsin. Steven Olikara, former chief of the Millennial Action Project, is running as a Democrat in the hopes of challenging GOP incumbent Ron Johnson in next year’s midterms.
In Massachusetts, Harvard University professor Danielle Allen is running to be the state’s first elected woman — and second Black person — to serve as governor. A Democrat, Allen has been involved in efforts to bolster democracy and civic education.
And at the national level, Andrew Yang, who ran unsuccessful campaigns for president and New York mayor, is launching a new independent political party. Two key tents of the Forward Party are ranked-choice voting and open primaries.
A registered nurse cares for a Covid-19 patient as another patient rests at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in Los Angeles. Minority patients have received a lower quality and quantity of Covid care compared white Americans, writes Pearl.
Pearl is a clinical professor of plastic surgery at the Stanford University School of Medicine and is on the faculty of the Stanford Graduate School of Business. He is a former CEO of The Permanente Medical Group.
This is the first entry in a two-part op-ed series on institutional racism in American medicine.
The story of American medicine is one of incredible scientific advancements, from the use of penicillin to treat syphilis and other bacterial infections to the countless biomedical breakthroughs made possible by cell-line research.
Too often, however, these stories ignore an uncomfortable truth: Some of our nation’s most significant medical discoveries were made possible through the mistreatment of Black patients — from the exploitation of African American farmers during the Tuskegee syphilis experiments to the tragic case of Henrietta Lacks, a Black patient whose cells were stolen by doctors and used for decades of cell-line research.
Racism is woven into our nation’s medical past but is also part of our present, as evidenced by the Covid-19 crisis. From testing to treatment, Black and Latino patients have received a lower quality and quantity of care compared white Americans.
The biases of individual doctors and researchers aren’t always the biggest barriers to equitable health care. Often, the problem is institutional.
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Institutional (or systemic) racism is invisible yet omnipresent. It is woven into the fabric of American health care, embedded into the practices, policies and perceptions of the entire industry.
At some point during medical school, all future doctors are instructed to treat everyone equally, regardless of a person’s race, ethnicity, gender, religion or sexual orientation. Studies have shown just how difficult this edict proves in practice.
Even when physicians have the best of intentions, their actions are beset by unconscious prejudices. Researchers have found that two out of three clinicians harbor what is called an “implicit bias” against African Americans and Latinos. These are biases that exist outside the doctor’s awareness but are nonetheless harmful to minority patients.
In one example, epidemiological data demonstrate that Black individuals have experienced a two to three times higher likelihood of dying from Covid-19 than white patients.
Physicians attribute this discrepancy to the “social determinants of health,” a phrase that encapsulates the many aspects of life that influence our health, including where we live, work, play and socialize. But before we accept this explanation and let health care professionals off the hook, consider what we learned early in the pandemic: According to national studies, white patients who came to the emergency room with symptoms likely to be Covid-19 were tested far more often than Black patients with identical symptoms.
A distressing example of institutional racism involves childbirth. Most Americans don’t realize it, but the United States ranks last among all developed nations in maternal mortality (the measure of how often mothers die during or soon after childbirth).
Most of these deaths could be prevented, and yet the maternal mortality rate has been increasing in the United States since 2000. Two decades after The Journal of Perinatal Education first described the issue of racial disparities in maternal care as “alarming,” Black women remain three times more likely to die from childbirth than white women.
Obstetricians know the most common causes of maternal death are (a) unrecognized bleeding and (b) uncontrolled high blood pressure. What they can’t explain is exactly why a woman’s skin color has such a significant influence on her risk of dying. Ask doctors what’s going on and they’ll list a number of contributing factors, ranging from the higher risk of hypertension in Black patients to greater life stresses to differences in diet and education.
But none of those factors help explain this: When the treating clinician is Black, the disparity in deaths between white and Black mothers all but vanishes.
The problem in understanding this discrepancy isn’t a lack of data. Almost all U.S. hospitals have comprehensive inpatient electronic health records that provide a rich tapestry of details about the women giving birth and the care they receive. And as of 2017, all 50 states were required to add a standardized “maternal mortality checkbox” to their data reporting systems.
And yet we still don’t know why the race of the doctor makes such a difference or how to close the gap when the physician is white. We also don’t know if the race of the nurses providing the care matters. We also don’t know whether the frequency of blood-pressure monitoring or care checks varies based on the patient’s race, the staff member’s race or both.
Most medical research focuses on the causations or correlations between two easily isolated data sets (like the race of doctors and the mortality of patients). Addressing systemic racism in medicine requires that we analyze far more data (all at once) than we do today.
In my next writing, I will explore how artificial intelligence might be the perfect application for this task but also how predictive health care algorithms used in AI can, themselves, have design flaws that result in unintended discriminatory biases.
Reproductive rights advocates marched in Washington, D.C., on Saturday to protest Texas’ new abortion ban, which recent polling found to be a key motivator for voters ahead of the 2022 midterms.
With the midterm elections just over a year away, two issues are top of mind for voters: Covid-19 and abortion, recent polling found.
Texas’ new ban on abortions after six weeks of pregnancy has sparked protests in the Lone Star State, as well as nationwide. The new law is also galvanizing some voters, mainly Democrats and women of color, to participate in the 2022 elections, according to a survey released Monday by All In Together, a nonpartisan nonprofit that encourages civic and political engagement among women.
The pandemic is also an issue of high importance for voters, as more than 700,000 Americans have died from Covid-19. While Democrats and independents indicated the coronavirus was the most important issue to them, Republicans rated it as third most important, behind national security and rising prices.
Just under three-quarters of all registered voters said they are “almost certain” or “probably” going to vote in next year’s elections for Congress, state offices and local positions. Republicans showed slightly more motivation, with 59 percent almost certain of voting, than Democrats (49 percent) or independents (42 percent).
Women (53 percent) were slightly more likely than men (49 percent) to be almost certain about voting next year. A majority of Black women and Asian American or Pacific Islander women said they were likely to participate in the midterms, whereas only 40 percent of Latinas said the same.
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Additionally, older Americans showed more certainty in voting next year than younger people. More than three-quarters of voters 65 and older and almost two-thirds of voters ages 50-64 said they were almost certain of voting in 2022, compared to two-fifths of voters ages 30-49 and 28 percent of voters under 30.
However, Texas’ recent abortion ban could drive more people to the polls next year. While Americans are evenly split on their views of the new law — 46 percent favor it and 47 percent oppose it — nearly three-fifths of voters said Texas’ law makes them more interested in voting. (Other polling has found a majority opposes the law with less than 40 percent supporting it.)
The abortion ban is particularly motivating among young women, with 73 percent saying they are more interested in voting next year because of it. Latinas of all ages also indicated more interest in voting (64 percent), as did Asian American and Pacific Islander women (63 percent) and Black women (58 percent).
When it comes to partisan turnout, Democrats are the most motivated by the new restrictions on abortion (68 percent indicating a higher inclination of voting in the midterms). A slight majority of Republicans (52 percent) said they were more interested in voting because of Texas’ new law, whereas less than half of independents (48 percent) said the same.
The survey of 1,000 registered voters nationwide was conducted by Lake Research and Emerson College Polling for All In Together from Sept. 22 to 24. The survey oversampled Black women, Latinas, and Asian American and Pacific Islander women, but those oversamples were adjusted to reflect actual population proportions. The margin of error was 3.1 percentage points.
Stein is an organizational and political strategist who has worked with dozens of for-profit, not-for-profit and political and public sector organizations over the past 50 years. He currently serves as a researcher/writer, consultant and champion of the work of cross-partisan cultural and political organizations and initiatives. This is the first in Stein’s new monthly column, Cross-Partisan Visions.
The dawn of the third decade of the 21st century has ushered in an age of hyperanxiety.
On every continent, and in virtually every country, conventional wisdoms are being shredded. Changed circumstances and altered conditions are the predominant constants. Clarity about the future is obfuscated in the fog of cultural, economic and political upheaval. Certainty is primarily the refuge of extremists across the cultural and political spectrum.
This toxic stew threatens personal mental health, social and political cohesion, security, justice and prosperity everywhere, and the very foundations of civilization.
Our hyperanxiety is being fed by powerful forces that have been unleashed by negligence, poor stewardship of our natural world, ineffective governance, wanton consumerism and greed. These forces include, but are not limited to, population-growth-based natural resource depletion; climate-induced fires, floods and storms; mass human migrations; species extinctions; pandemics; escalating economic inequality; civil and regional wars; racial reckonings; and the increasing avalanche of disinformation and conspiracy theories being manufactured and spread by hyperpartisan organs of mass communication and social media.
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There are no glib answers, quick fixes or short cuts back to truth, trust, reason and civility. Whatever the future holds, and however traumatic and relentless the age of hyperanxiety ultimately becomes, we have no choice but to do the painstakingly difficult work of discovering new faith in ourselves, one another and our institutions.
And the diligence and resilience we are called now to muster can only be animated, and therefore can only emanate, from a new global consciousness and crystalline clarity about our collective commitment to meaningful changes that improve human life and sustain our humanity.
This is the hope and promise of “Cross-Partisan Visions.” In the months and years ahead, we will explore how people from across traditional divides can imagine, and therefore collaboratively implement, strategies to realize their common interests and shared destinies. In turn, this will require a deep commitment to building a new values-based constituency with a collective vision and a compelling new cultural and political voice.
Such a constituency will be realized when, initially, hundreds of thousands and, ultimately, millions of people pledge allegiance to a “Cross-Partisan Creed”:
Fidelity in these times to this Cross-Partisan Creed will advance a modern “Cross-Partisan Ethos” which:
Social media has become a prism that distorts our identities, empowers status-seeking extremists, and renders moderates all but invisible. The Braver Angels podcast speaks with Duke professor Christopher Bail about his new book, Breaking the Social Media Prism, which challenges many common myths and reveals that the solution to political tribalism lies deep inside ourselves.
President Biden issued an executive order in March asking federal agencies to come up with plans to promote voter access and participation.
While federal electoral reform legislation languishes in Congress, the executive branch is taking small but significant steps toward promoting access to the ballot box.
In March, President Biden issued an executive order asking federal agencies to evaluate how they can, within their purview of the law, encourage voter registration and participation. The deadline for agencies to submit their proposals was Sept. 23, and this week the White House announced the first set of plans.
Here’s how 14 federal departments and agencies plan to promote voter participation and access:
More initiatives from federal agencies will be rolled out in the coming months.
Before the agencies submitted their plans to the White House, the Campaign Legal Center outlined recommendations and best practices for promoting voter access.
Demos, a progressive think tank that advocates for democracy reform, celebrated this step forward, while also pushing for further action from the federal government.
“The actions outlined today are a good start and, with additional consultation, creative thinking, and commitments, have the potential to transform how and where people register to vote all across America. This is especially significant in Black, brown and low-income communities, where we see notably lower rates of voter registration,” said Laura Williamson, senior policy analyst at Demos.
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When announcing these plans for promoting electoral participation, Vice President Harris also emphasized the importance of Congress passing the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. However, with the filibuster still intact, both bills have a slim chance of success in the Senate.
“Our nation and democracy are stronger when everyone participates, and weaker when anyone is left out,” Harris said. “The president and I will help ensure these plans are fully implemented, and we will continue to work closely with these agencies to bring a whole-of-government approach to making voting accessible for all Americans.”
In this edition of #ListenFirstFriday, we hear from John Noltner who shares stories of hope, healing and transformation in overcoming the differences that divide us as a nation.
Who can honestly say they are satisfied with the government? Government is an easy target for our angst and woes. We pay taxes, but what do we get for it? Seems like an endless and hopeless customer service failure. But the government isn’t doing anything to us. The government is us.
When Ronald Reagan identified government as the problem in the 1980s, he intended to promote the idea of smaller government and more personal freedom. Given our endless human dissatisfaction with the government, a majority of people gravitated to his message. At the time, it was a clever turn of phrase that many of us took with good humor. But embedded in his cleverness were the seeds of separation, distrust and contempt for the system of government itself.
At the time, most people considered the government inefficient, but necessary. Business guru Peter F. Drucker is credited with saying he wasn’t in favor of small or big government, but effective government.
Today, a sizable percentage of our fellow Americans consider the government to be corrupt, evil and tyrannical. Even elected officials, with power to make the government more effective in serving the common good, share this view.
But what if we have it all wrong?
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A governing system is a significant part of how we manage to live in groups peacefully. The Constitution of the United States set in motion a governing system that allowed for self-interest to co-exist with common good. Not to dominate the common good, but to co-exist with it. This was radical in the 18th century when we were subjects to the monarchy — where only the monarch’s self-interest mattered. Instead, we agreed to abide by the rule of law, and the government was granted credibility by the will of the people.
In order for our democratic republic to function effectively, we have to be as equally committed to the rule of law and the rights of others as we are to our individual freedom. It’s a trifecta of priorities that cannot be separated.
Leading into the Great Depression, the stock market was at an all-time high. The oligarchs were profiting from a newly industrialized nation. Workers — from children to the elderly — were paid poverty wages to eke out their living. Alcohol prohibition led to increased violence and crime levels. Streets were filled with hungry and homeless people. The small government advocated by big business was failing to provide for the common good of all citizens.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt saw a role for government in ameliorating the excess of big business that dominated the self-interests of a few over the needs of the public. Like the Founding Fathers, he sought to disrupt the status quo where big business had influenced the government to benefit themselves. FDR’s “New Deal” was a series of reforms that gave us a 40-hour work week, eliminated child labor, oversaw massive infrastructure projects and provided Social Security for the elderly.
Passing the dozen or so laws that made up the New Deal took time — about eight years. It involved obstruction by the Republicans. Some of the laws passed were struck down by a conservative Supreme Court. The Democrats threatened to pack the courts with more progressive judges. Within the Democratic coalition of women, African Americans and left-wing intellectuals, deals were struck.
In times of unrest and uncertainty, we look to scholars and pundits to predict the future.
In his write up in The Washington Post, Robert Kagan predicts that Trump loyalists will be running elections in counties across the nation and the state legislatures that have given themselves the power to invalidate election results. He labels this a current and ongoing constitutional crisis, which will lead to civil war. The demagogue wins in his analysis.
Robert Hubbell takes a more measured approach in his rebuttal, arguing that the violence pre-supposed by Kagan is a form of trauma from watching the events of Jan. 6, 2021m in a loop. He states that the Constitution allows for this and will be followed. Should election interference in 2024 invalidate the presidential election, the speaker of the House will become president, the courts will have a say and we’ll have a new election in 2028. The rule of law wins in his analysis.
I’m more certain our path will follow the historical pattern. We have 14 months until the midterm elections. And 62 months until the next presidential election. That’s a lot of time for Congress to pass legislation in the interests of the common good. It’s a herculean task, to be sure. We need more people to vote. The will of the people wins in my analysis.
Yes, predicting the future is fraught with risk. We’ll have to live it out.
Although a government shutdown has been temporarily avoided, there’s no shortage of pressing issues on Capitol Hill.
The federal government will narrowly avoid another shutdown as Congress plans to approve funding for agencies and operations through early December.
Congressional leaders came together on a band-aid solution just hours before the end of the fiscal year Thursday night, as spending was set to expire. Because Congress only agreed to a temporary solution, lawmakers will have to address it all over again in 65 days.
And there’s scant time to start on a long-term spending solution because there’s no shortage of other pressing issues on Capitol Hill: Lawmakers will need to raise or suspend the country’s debt ceiling by mid-October. Democrats are trying to cobble together enough votes to pass a massive bipartisan infrastructure bill and a separate economic package, two of Biden’s top priorities. And major voting rights and election reform legislation also lies in wait.
Partisan disputes in Congress kept lawmakers from reaching a solution earlier. Leaders of both parties said they wanted to avoid a government shutdown, but disagreed on how to do so. Democrats tried to pass a measure earlier this week that both funded the government and suspended the debt ceiling, but Senate Republicans blocked the effort.
Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has said if Democrats want to raise the debt ceiling, they’ll have to do it on their own. By forcing the issue to a party-line vote, Republicans hope to use the higher debt ceiling as evidence of out-of-control Democratic spending during the midterm elections — even though a significant portion of the debt accrued came from spending and tax breaks approved by the GOP during the Trump administration.
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Thursday’s vote on a stopgap spending bill will provide interim funding for the government and keep critical services running during the Covid-19 pandemic. Before it spending expires Dec. 3, lawmakers will need to either approve another short-term solution, known as a continuing resolution, or approve appropriations to fund the government through the end of 2022.
Close calls like this and actual government shutdowns have become increasingly common over the years. In the last decade, there have been three government shutdowns, including a 34-day closure in 2019, the longest one in American history. Since the current budget process was introduced in the 1970s, there have been 20 funding gaps — four of which have resulted in shutdowns lasting more than one business day.
The last time Congress approved federal appropriations before the fiscal year ended, with no need for continuing resolutions, was 1997, according to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.
Because Congress is so polarized, it’s tough for legislation to garner the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster in the Senate. This hurdle is especially difficult “when you’re talking about things in the budget process where Congress first has to agree on big, top-line numbers for how much they want to spend across the board and then they actually have to proceed to the hard work of dividing up the pie,” said Molly Reynolds, a senior fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution.
Appropriations measures also become popular targets for other, unrelated issues because of their “must pass” status, which can ramp up the drama. These combined challenges are why Congress finds itself flirting with shutdowns so often, Reynolds said.
To make the federal budget process more functional, Reynolds said, Congress should develop the appropriations bills individually in their respective subcommittees and bring them to the floor in “minibus,” or smaller, packages rather than omnibus packages that put all the appropriations bills together.
“In 2018, we had both the start of a record-long government shutdown and also, earlier in 2018, we had Congress’s most productive appropriations year in several decades. Part of what made that happen was this minibus strategy,” Reynolds said.
The minibus strategy allowed some of the appropriations bills to pass that year, keeping significant parts of the government funded, even though other parts shut down.
“We don’t live in the political world that we lived in when Congress wrote the Congressional Budget Act of 1974,” Reynolds said, adding that lawmakers should try to figure out “what are the things about the 1974 process that we think are valuable and that we can keep, and then how do we adapt other parts of the process to recognize the [current] political realities.”
While Congress has skirted another government shutdown for now, the debt ceiling deadline still looms. If the debt limit isn’t raised or suspended by Oct. 18, according to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, the U.S. won’t be able to pay its bills and the country could default for the first time ever. Because so many countries rely on the U.S. economy, such an outcome would have dire and unpredictable repercussions around the globe.
Democrats could raise the debt ceiling on their own through a process called reconciliation, which only requires a simple majority to pass in the Senate, rather than the usual 60 needed to overcome a filibuster. However, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has refused to resort to reconciliation, calling it “risky” and “uncharted waters.”
The reconciliation process can only be used once per fiscal year and Democrats are already considering using it to pass their $3.5 trillion domestic policy package. However, the fate of that legislation and the $1 trillion infrastructure bill remains uncertain as the Democratic party is divided over how much money to spend on what programs.
And amid the drama over the federal budget and infrastructure package, two landmark election reform bills have taken a backseat, despite voting rights advocates’ urgent calls for passage. The Freedom to Vote Act was introduced earlier this month as a compromise version of the For the People Act. Both the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act face long odds in the Senate if the filibuster remains intact.
President Biden needs to employ some newer forms of leverage in order to advance his agenda, writes Anderson.
The centrist and progressive wings of the Democratic Party are either giving birth to a compromise to move President Biden’s agenda (and their agendas) forward, or they are strangling each other.
Make no mistake, the drama on Capitol Hill this week is not only or even chiefly about whether Biden’s agenda will move forward. The drama is chiefly about the health and direction of the Democratic Party. And although the Republicans of course are also players on the Washington stage — especially concerning the debt ceiling issue and a potential government shutdown — the dominant themes are controlled by the Democrats.
The centrists, especially Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, want the infrastructure bill to be passed by the House and they want a scaled-down version of the social-services-oriented $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill. The progressives, especially the group led by “the Squad “and Progressive Caucus Chairwoman Pramila Jayapal, want the full $3.5 trillion and a demand that the Senate agree to it before they vote yes on the bipartisan infrastructure bill.
The fighting from afar looks like good old fashioned leveraging and horse trading. We all know that Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer are making promises and deals behind closed doors and Biden is offering what he can to get what he can.
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In this context it is useful to ask the centrists and the progressives if they are relying too much on traditional bargaining leverage and the rigidly defined concepts of their faction.
A more constructive approach at this stage is to employ resource leverage to transform the Democratic Party and better position the president to lead it. With resource leverage, a concept that has become more widely known and used in the last generation, you get the most from the least. With information technology, for example, you get 1 million emails to 1 million potential customers or voters — from one email.
The concept of leverage from ancient physics involves using a minimum input to create a maximum output with a fulcrum of some kind. With resource leverage, the levers may be social or political or economic or psychological rather than physical. Moreover, resources leveraged creatively generate new products, services and brands.
Resource leverage goes beyond traditional physical leverage and traditional bargaining leverage.
The question for the Democrats is what resources can they leverage to transform their factions and their party to serve the nation? Rather than using threats of withholding votes as leverage to get what they want, how can they leverage resources, which includes relationships, to transform their party and our country?
Presumably the solution finds a new center for the Democrats which rejects old concepts about moderation and progressivism. Legislators must break out of their molds and not only compromise but redefine.
Getting from traditional bargaining leverage and negotiations driven by threats to creative resource leveraging is extremely difficult. But greatness requires creativity and imagination and not just dedication and hard negotiating.
The solution, whatever it is, concerns the entire Democratic Party and the nation overall. In truth, any viable solution must address financial leverage as well, since the debt ceiling issue revolves around this third critical concept of leverage.
Indeed, leveraging is not only central to the strategy needed to resolve the crisis, it is central to the content of the crisis itself. This should come as no surprise since leveraging is, at least I have argued, the dominant theme of our time.
If the focus given by the Democrats is on passing the president’s agenda, the effort may fail. At the same time, the one person in Washington who can transcend transactional bargaining leverage for transformational resource leverage is President Biden.
In this episode of Democracy Works from The McCourtney Institute for Democracy, the team looks at the impact of Amazon on democracy and America’s social fabric.
California became the largest state to permanently adopt universal mail-in ballot distribution when Gov. Gavin Newsom signed the measure into law Monday.
The Golden State, like many of the others that expanded access to mail-in ballots as an emergency change in 2020, saw record turnout in November. The state extended this policy into 2021, including in the September recall election. Once again, it saw higher than expected turnout.
“When voters get a ballot in the mail, they vote,” said California legislator Marc Berman, author of the vote-by-mail bill. “We saw this in the 2020 general election when, in the middle of a global health pandemic, we had the highest voter turnout in California since Harry Truman was president.”
The law does not require voters to cast their ballot by mail. Californians who are more comfortable voting in person can still do so.
California is the eighth state to adopt universal mail-in ballot distribution, following Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Utah, Hawaii, Nevada, and Vermont. A handful of states have gone the opposite direction in 2021 and either barred or limited sending unsolicited mail-in ballot applications and/or ballots, regardless of the impact it had on turnout.
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The new California law applies to both the primary election in June and the general election in November. For most races, it means every voter will receive a primart ballot that includes all candidates running for legislative seats, statewide offices and Congress, regardless of party. The presidential election, however, is a bit more complicated.
California has a nonpartisan open primary for all races except the presidential election, in which the parties are allowed to choose whether voters registered outside a political party can participate. Some parties don’t. Under the new law, voters will have to request a specific party’s ballot within a certain period of time if their chosen party even allows such a request.
If they don’t pick a party, voters registered No Party Preference will receive a blank page for the presidential primary. There are more than 5.1 million registered NPP voters in California.
This “semi-closed” system has contributed to widespread confusion in California.
Sen. Susan Collins “has long believed that the power of a few people to use their money to control elections violates the equal rights of all Americans,” writes Clements.
“We’re under an avalanche. No one can hear us, and we can’t hear each other.”
That’s my friend, David Trahan. He’s a logger in Waldoboro, Maine. He’s also a former Republican senator in the state Legislature and leads the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine. Trahan and SAM represent the interests of 300,000 Maine people who hunt, fish and trap in the state’s vast woods, rivers and lakes. SAM is also Maine’s leading advocate in defense of the Second Amendment right to bear arms.
Under an avalanche. Trahan is talking about the 2020 U.S. Senate race between incumbent Susan Collins and her Democratic challenger, Sarah Gideon. In a mostly rural state with a small population, billionaires, corporations, some big unions and various front groups from Washington, D.C., and a few other cities spent more than $200 million to bury Maine voters in a relentless sleaze bomb attack of division, disinformation and fear. The dirty game was completely bipartisan, and a snapshot of what Americans in every state are facing. Indeed, at $200 million, Maine did not even make it into the top five of big-money Senate elections.
Trahan has become a leader in American Promise’s constitutional amendment campaign to fix this problem for good. Like most Americans, he wants an amendment to the U.S Constitution so we can have even-handed limits on how much money anyone can contribute or spend in elections.
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Trahan was glad that Collins was re-elected. He has supported her for a long time. But his candidate’s win does not make him any less concerned about the future of America without this American Promise amendment in the Constitution. And he has high hopes that Collins can help make it happen, and, he says, for good reason.
Collins has long believed that the power of a few people to use their money to control elections violates the equal rights of all Americans.
She was a leader in the passage of the 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act that limited the ability of billionaires, corporations, unions, foreign governments and other entities to run big money into elections through super PACs and “dark money” channels.
This bipartisan law now is defunct only because the Supreme Court struck it down — as well as many more state and federal anti-corruption laws — by fabricating a kooky new theory about the First Amendment. Corporate and big-money political operatives sold the court an idea that those with a lot of money — whether they are human beings, global corporations, big government unions, or dark money super PACs — have a “free speech” right to spend as much money as they want to get control of our government and officeholders — no matter the cost to other Americans.
Money is free speech? Corporations are people? So say the justices on the Supreme Court (none of whom has ever run for even local office, and few of whom have ever talked with a jury of Americans in a local or state courthouse).
Americans aren’t buying the “money is speech” experiment, and for a simple reason. After a decade in the lab of American democracy, the experiment has been a catastrophe for the country. No one who can’t afford the new price of admission for “speech” is feeling represented, respected or even connected with the elected politicians and government that results from the big-money attack game. Almost all of us now are “under the avalanche.”
Early in her career, Collins put the counter-argument to this “money is free speech” theory. “Why should [the big money] matter, we are asked by those all too eager to equate freedom of speech with freedom to spend. It should matter because political equality is the essence of democracy, and an electoral system driven by big money is one lacking in political equality.”
How money is used in elections goes to the heart of Americans’ equal rights. All Americans, no matter how rich or how poor, have a right to participate in elections, be represented, have an opportunity to be heard, and to debate issues and candidates. These rights cannot be sold or bought because they belong to everyone. As Trahan says, “Money can’t buy the deep love and passion we feel for the freedom our Constitution guarantees.”
So, it’s about equality, but as Trahan shows, it’s about freedom, too. Our freedom; the freedom of every American. When only the richest individuals, the biggest corporations, or the most powerful unions or special interests are free, no one is free.
Freedom and equality. Too often we think of these as in opposition to each other. But freedom is our freedom, or it’s no freedom. Freedom is not the same as individualism; instead, freedom follows from our equality as citizens and human beings in society, together.
If we are equal in the eyes of our Creator and our Constitution, our own freedoms must be reciprocal, and in relationship to each other. Freedom exists when citizens, all of whom have equal rights as each one has, can debate, argue and compete, over time, election after election, decision after decision, in the various perspectives of what make sound laws and healthy norms in our society.
In contrast to the justices, Collins learned this lesson in her Caribou, Maine, birthplace near the Canadian border, and over a long career in competitive politics and debate.
She and all New Englanders are familiar with nearly four centuries of local democracy in the town meeting, where all the community’s citizens have a right to debate and together to decide budgets and priorities; crime and safety, environmental, zoning and business regulations; and everything else.
Collins once pointed to this experience to explain all you need to know about the First Amendment and money in politics. “Attend a town meeting,” she said, “and you will observe an element of true democracy: People with more money do not get to speak longer and louder than people with less money.”
The constitutional amendment favored by Trahan and so many Americans is advancing rapidly, with 22 states so far calling on Congress to act, and versions of amendment language competing in Congress to reach the two-thirds threshold. Legal experts, business and civic leaders, health care and faith leaders are joining the campaign. And a nonpartisan and diverse panel of experts convened by the American Academy of Arts & Sciences has endorsed the American Promise effort and urged ratification of this constitutional amendment no later than July 4, 2026.
July 4, 2026. What more fit way to honor America’s hard, bumpy and fractious 250-year journey to freedom, equality and constitutional democracy than the ratification of a For Our Freedom Amendment so we can dig us out of the avalanche, and renew our promise?
In this episode of the Let’s Find Common Ground podcast, the Common Ground Committee team looks at the growing movement of bridge builders pushing back against the toxic polarization that separates us.